Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Day 124

Dear Mr. President,

Some days, I'll admit, I really don't know what to say. I read the press briefings, I read the White House blog, I read the news. Sometimes I'm upset or encouraged by things and I want to tell you. Sometimes I think I actually can offer a unique perspective. Most of the time, I remember that you're surrounded by advisers who know better than me, (and probably even a few who know better than you,) and you don't need another voice chiming in to tell you what you already know. These days, when I have nothing policy-related to contribute, I just want to give you a better idea of what it's like to be me, your constituent and supporter and fellow American.

Today was a challenging day. For the last few days I've been feeling angry and exhausted and anxious, and today I realized it's because I'm scared. I'm scared of looking the mirror and reconciling myself to who I have become. I'm scared that the life I lead now might be all I'm ever going to do; that the 8 years of my life spent in near-minimum wage jobs, working for hours on my feet has brought me nowhere closer to the life I thought I'd have by this age. I'm scared that if I do what I have to do to finish my degree that it will be too hard, or I'll have gotten too stupid, or I'll be just as lost and tired and poor on the other side of graduation. This fear chases me every day, and today, for no reason at all, it has become overwhelming.

There are so many harder things in life than fear of disappointed hopes. Today while riding the ferry I met a Filipino woman who wanted me to know that she was 73 years old. She was so adamant about this that she pulled out her driver's license to show me. She's lived in America for 53 years and she told me that, even though she's a senior citizen and doesn't have to pay for the bus, she still pays every time because she's "rich." After we got off of the ferry (an ordeal in itself when you're 73, 5' tall, and trying to carry an umbrella and a full, boiling hot, cup-o-noodle,) she spent most of our bus ride shaking her umbrella at the bus driver and scolding him for driving too slow or stopping too long at stoplights. I think she might be a little crazy, but after living 73 years, moving to a new country and learning a new language, having 4 children and 8 grandchildren and still taking day trips on public transit by herself to see the sights of the islands, I also think she's earned a bit of madness. (The driver seemed to agree, and bore her abuse with good humor.) What strikes me, as I reflect on our conversation, is the intense self-satisfaction she seemed to exude. She told me she's going to die soon, but that it's OK because she's been alive long enough. I wonder what enough will look like, for me. Will I ever reach a point where I feel like I've done and said and lived enough? Will I ever take stock of my accomplishments with the same pride?

When people ask me if I think you've read any of my letters personally, I always point out that you read 10/night, and even if I'm only 1 in 40,000 letters every day, I still have hope. Sometimes I have specific questions I'd like answered, specific complaints I'd like addressed, and sometimes I don't worry about getting a response at all. Tonight is one of those times where I don't imagine there's a form letter your office can send in response to this, (unless, of course, you have "keep your chin up, tiger" form letters, in which case I think I really will have collected them all.) There's no legislative agenda to address my concerns, no shift in public policy that would make me sleep easy tonight. I'm just scared; scared about the smallness of my life and the darkness of the unknown before me. I don't think that you can be plagued by this kind of self-doubt, but having the tangible evidence of your own significance that comes with raising a family, writing bestsellers, and holding high office must be its own kind of burden. I suppose if you can do those things, if the woman on the ferry today can live the kind of life she has, I can put aside this unproductive fear and find my own way to contribute something more.

Respectfully yours,


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